No small miracles: New East Metro Miracle League beginsRoughly 100 kids from around south Washington County with cognitive or physical impairments took the field for the first time last week as part of the East Metro Miracle League at Bielenberg Sports Center Complex in Woodbury.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
Greg Livermore loves baseball. He watches his older brother Scott play year-round for Stillwater High School and is a fan of the Minnesota Twins. However, he hasn’t had a chance to play the game — until now.
Roughly 100 kids from around south Washington County with cognitive or physical impairments, like Greg, took the field for the first time last week as part of the East Metro Miracle League at Bielenberg Sports Center Complex in Woodbury.
“Greg just loves baseball, but he’s always the fan and not the participant,” Greg’s mom Linda Livermore said. “It’s fun to get him out here to give it a try. It’s just great, because he loves being outside and being active. This is such a good opportunity for him.”
Presented by Woodbury Parks and Recreation and The Miracle League of Minnesota, The East Metro Miracle League is designed specifically for children age 3 through 18 with cognitive and/or physical challenges. It was created to provide participants an opportunity to play baseball as a member of an integrated team.
Players in the league either can bring, or are provided with, a volunteer buddy, as needed, to help them bat, run the bases and field. Greg Livermore, 16, plays for the Mets. His brother Scott showed him the ropes in his first game last week.
In the East Metro Miracle League everyone hits, everyone gets on base, everyone crosses home plate, and most importantly, everyone has fun.
Kevin Thoresen, founder and executive director of the Miracle League of Minnesota, began the non-profit organization in 2006.
“We have 2,000 plus kids playing baseball that most have, frankly, never played in any organized team sport before,” Thoresen said. “It’s really, really awesome.”
Thoresen, a Prior Lake resident, has worked with special-needs children since he was in high school. He also has a son that has special needs.
“I grew up in baseball all my life,” Thoresen said. “To know a lot about the sport — it’s something that any kid can play. It’s just a perfect fit for these kids and the benefits are wonderful.”
Maya Servais, 7, has autism, which causes issues with social interaction. However, last week she rounded the bases with her dad Jeff Servais with a big smile on her face — and even scored the game’s first run.
“We try to get her to as many activities as we can to help get her involved with strangers, so she’s not so shy,” Jeff Servais said. “She’s kind of timid now, but she gets warmed up after it gets going. It’s a good experience for her.”
Both Linda Livermore and Jeff Servais said there aren’t a lot of opportunities, like the East Metro Miracle League, for their children to participate in sports.
“It’s hard to find events for the kids that, number one, bring the different disabilities together, and, two, have them be able to participate in this type of fashion,” Jeff Servais said. “I think it’s great that they’re offering this.”
The first Miracle League launched in Rockdale County, Georgia in 1997. In Minnesota, the first three specially designed Miracle League fields were in Lakeville, Minnetonka and Blaine in 2006. However, at the end of summer, there will be 10 Miracle leagues and ball fields. Next spring there will be 11 when the city of Woodbury completes its new Miracle Field at the Bielenberg Sports Center.
“It’s thrilling,” Thoresen said. “We have the (East Metro) league up and running and the groundbreaking set. It’s a lot of people doing a lot of hard work to make it happen. It takes an army of people, but it’ll get a ton of kids playing baseball that have never had the chance to play before.”
The East Metro Miracle League and field will serve the east metro and western Wisconsin areas. The summer league runs from July through mid-August.
Thoresen said the Miracle league is a “true community endeavor.”
“Our league involves a lot of people in the community, including the youth baseball leagues who can be the buddies for our kids,” Thoresen said. “They grow up and get to realize these kids have some issues, but they’re just kids like them. It’s pretty powerful stuff.”